18 Mar What the heck is a Non-Diet Dietitian?
I get asked this a lot.
So, you don’t do diets. What do you do then?
When I say non-diet, I simply mean that I don’t promote any form of unnecessary dietary restriction. So that’s along the lines of no low carb, low kcal or high-protein sorta diets – unless they’re medically necessary. No points counting, not only eating at a certain time, no cheat days, no diets dressed up as a ‘lifestyle’ – I see you clean eating.
That doesn’t mean that you have to eat ALL of the carbs if you don’t like them or that you can’t eat a diet high in protein. What it means is that I’m not going to tell you that there’s one way to eat to be healthy. There just isn’t.
It doesn’t mean that I’m anti people who’re on diets. Or that I don’t believe there’s a need for dietary modifications for certain illnesses – there definitely is. What works for one person will not work for another, however, and restricting food choices merely to lose weight might not be the best idea in the long term.
It does mean that I provide the same treatment to all of my clients; I’m not judging anyone based on their weight or abilities. I’m looking at my clients needs first. An inclusive approach that treats the individual, takes into account their social situation, their preferences, their habits, their experiences and how society treats them – not just a patient number, a BMI or number on a scale.
Why not dieting though?
Well, for starters: our weight does not = our health.
Any health promoting behaviours that you might make on a diet; be it increased physical activity or increased intake of nutrient-dense foods, all of these tend to have positive outcomes on health. No matter what you weigh.
As you may have heard me mention before, I’ve found that focusing purely on weight is not very helpful. It ignores the health benefits gained from all of those health promoting behaviours, and focuses on restriction and disordered eating behaviours instead. Just to reach a number on a scale.
Another thing is that when people diet, successfully lose weight and then regain it over time – they can be made to feel like failures, even though they retain all of the health benefits they gained from changing their health behaviours. Other people can make lots of positive health behaviour changes and still the scale won’t budge – they’re likely making improvements to their health, but it’s lost in a number on a scale.
I’m not saying that diets don’t work for everyone – there are a few people who will manage to lose weight and maintain that weight loss. But they are few. The other ~90% of people are likely chasing an impossible ideal; potentially making themselves miserable and damaging their health.
Isn’t anti-diet anti-health?
Nope, ‘fraid not. It doesn’t mean that non-diet dietitians throw away all of their studying, experience and training. The approach has actually been developed to promote health.
The non-diet approach and Intuitive Eating isn’t just carte blanche to eat whatever, whenever. There’s a focus on nutrition in there as well; it’s just that it goes softly on it. Intuitive Eating helps people to be curious about food and drink, it allows us to eat the foods that diet culture sees fit to make ‘forbidden’ – but without guilt or shame. When this guilt and shame is gone, those foods are just that: food. The same as any other.
A gentle approach to nutrition incorporates health promoting behaviours alongside a heightened awareness of our actual hunger and fullness signals. It also helps us to see how different our bodies feel when we’ve nourished them and how our emotions and moods affect our eating patterns.
There is a focus on the positives of exercise and movement as well – both physical and mental. That might mean marathon training to one person, boxercise, a 6am HIIT class, pilates, yoga, basketball or simply a walk up the road to another.
There is no denying that finding a way to move your body that you enjoy can bring health benefits. The Intuitive Eating and Health at Every Size approach look at how we can be curious about what these things mean to us and finding out what works. Exercise or movement shouldn’t be a punishment for eating a donut or just so you can eat that donut. It can be something that you really enjoy and look forward to.
Image – Sport England
Anti-diet is not anti-health. We’re also not judging people for eating how they want to or people who are on a diet. There is absolutely no single best way for everyone to eat or live their lives. Plus, more importantly – it’s up to the individual to eat however works for them.
Unlike Diet Culture, I’m not here to tell you how to eat or to change up how you move. If losing a few pounds will make you happy – then go for it. It is none of my business at all what makes you happy or how you want to eat. But, just as I keep up to date on research, question my own bias and my own practice; I would encourage people to stay curious, ask questions and see what really works for them.